Friday, November 26, 2010

That's my goddaughter!

She just turned three, and this happened a while back . . . I think when she was two. My mom was babysitting my goddaughter and her two brothers (ages 4 and 6). You need to understand that my mom no longer has patience with children; hard to believe she had three kids. Anyway, things were chaotic in the house around lunchtime. My mom's washing the dishes and my goddaughter pranced into the kitchen trying to get my mom's attention. My mom tried to ignore her but my goddaughter wouldn't go away, so my mom snapped. "What the fuck do you want?" My goddaughter didn't miss a beat: "I want a fuckin' sandwich." Classic! Love how she used the F word in the right context.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Stephen King

Just downloaded his latest, Full Dark, No Stars, over at I didn't finish his previous one, Under the Dome (I'll explain why in another post), but he's my favourite living writer -- used to be two with Robert B. Parker -- so I have to check this novella collection out.

While downloading it, I saw that Audible has almost every Stephen King novel up in unabridged format. Awesome! So I downloaded It, Tommyknockers, Misery and The Langoliers. You see, I have the unfortunate character flaw of rarely finishing a book that's more than 500 pages, but I can deal with an audiobook no matter how long. I know, weird.

Once back in the 80s and once in the 90s I tried reading It but lost interest about halfway through, and the miniseries was weak sauce. But check this out, the unabridged audio for It is -- are you ready? -- 44 hours! Hot damn, and I thought Jean Smith's bio on FDR was lengthy at 33 hours.

I'm stoked about Tommyknockers, too, because in my opinion it was the last novel in his prime. I've heard it's overwritten, and I know he was all coked up and drunk while writing it, but I have high hopes since the miniseries was one of his better adaptions.

Misery I never read but should be interesting, since it was one of the first novels he wrote in sobriety.

And I had to download The Langoliers. I read the novella a while back, but it's read by Willem Dafoe. Couldn't resist. A superb sci-fi/horror as interpreted by one of America's finest hours. Gotta save that one for last. Build up the anticipation. . . .

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Death of the Liberal Class

I have this book on my wish list. Author Chris Hedges has an interesting argument on why the Left is so ineffectual in the United States. He believes it is because liberals have either fled or been expunged from five pillars of society: the press, universities, labor unions, liberal religion, and the Democratic Party. All good points, but one thing I don't see too often is how the Right annihilated the Left's momentum in the 60s.

Not to get all conspiracy theory, it seems odd that the most charismatic Left leaders of the 60s were assassinated: Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X. I find it hard to believe that they were all murdered by lone gunmen. Plus, I read somewhere that a former FBI agent confessed to riling up Nation of Islam idiots, which eventually led to Malcolm X's death.

Another thing that has helped obliterate the Left, in my opinion, is the identity of this country. The myth of the American Dream is so entrenched in most citizens that they believe the lie. Let's be honest, entrepreneurs are great. They introduce society to new innovations, but in order to bring that to the marketplace we need support personnel, such as accounts, working-class cats and paper pushers. In the current mindset of Casino Capitalism, the support personnel have been kicked aside like a talented sports player who hasn't hit his prime yet.

And as much as it pains to me say it: We need a conservative class. Their roots in the past help society stay stable. I just wish I lived in a country where both sides of the aisle had equal play -- not a media brainwash where "fair and balanced" ruled the airwaves.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Tip of the Hat to Libertarians

Been listening to Models' Melbourne lately. For the 99% of people reading this, Models were an 80s Australian new wave band. Melbourne is 16 tracks from the late 70s, early 80s, before they got signed. There are some real gems in there (it's tough to find, so contact me at johnnyostentatiousATyahooDOTcom if you're interested). Anyway, most of the songs on there are live. Given the age, I'm amazed at how awesome it sounds. And in the CD booklet it mentions that HUNDREDS of bands back in the day thrived in the Melbourne scene.

It got me to thinking about an interview with Kirk Pingelly, INXS' guitarist/saxist, I saw a while back. He said that in the late 70s, early 80s, the Sydney and Melbourne club scene was at its peak. Nothing was off-limits. Apparently, it was -- to use a cliche -- a free-for-all. But by the time the mid-80s rolled around, the Law came to town and shut down the fun. I can't help but think that so much great music came out of Australia in the 80s. Nowadays, the land down under is pretty quiet (music-wise). Where are the Midnight Oils, Hoodoo Gurus and Birthday Parties? Sure, every once in a while you'll have a great act like Cut Copy, but for the most part it's more desolate than Darwin in the winter time.

Getting back to the subject line of this blog, I can't help but thinking if The Law didn't clam down on the clubs' freedom, maybe Australia would still have a music scene. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, music isn't a necessary component of life, but it's nice -- a benefit to living in a civilized society. Because in the end, Australia is a great country, and it deserves unique music.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Montreal swan song

Yesterday, Friday, was my last day in Montreal. Did my usual drill in the morning. A little before noon, I hopped on the Metro to head down to the Underground City for some souvenir shopping. Before doing any of that, I had lunch at a pizza joint near the exit to McGill College. I love how in Montreal their pepperoni pizza has three-inch slices of pepperoni between the bread and cheese. Umm-yum! Of course, pig that I am, I had a plain slice, too.

After wondering around for an hour, I settled on a souvenir shop. I picked up biscuits for my work peeps and cookies for my family. For my goddaughter, I got a snow dog in a Canadian Mounty uniform; for my newest nephew (age nine months?), I got Canada white-and-blue socks. Oh, and it's my one uncle's 60th birthday party Sunday night, so I bought him a Canada cap -- he's a golfer . . . the cap was the closest thing to golf I could find (hope he likes it).

In the late afternoon, I just hung out at the B&B, catching up YouTube clips. Thanks The Young Turks and Russia Today!

Around eight o'clock, I headed out for a bite to eat. I cruised on a Bixi bike because I wasn't sure how far away this Portuguese place (recommended by my travel book) was from the B&B. Turns out I could've walked there, but it's a non-issue since they were all booked up. So I walked to my favourite strip, Avenue du Mont-Royal, and stumbled across an Italian restaurant called Pizzeria Romeo, which was spacious with a few patrons -- guess that's what happens when you're on busy avenue.

I sat at the bar. The woman who served was gorgeous: around 24 years old, long black hair and wearing Daisy Duke shorts. I ordered a screwdriver, which she made strong (what a switch!). I was in the mood for pasta. All they had in that vein was lasagne. It was awesome! Served on a slightly concave white dish on top of small beans in red sauce. For dessert, I went with bar maid's suggestion. Since the menu was in French, I'm not sure what it was. It was two scoops on a plate -- tasted like cake. Dee-lic-ious!!!

Here's where things got weird. The bar maid started hitting on me, big time. Strange, since I hadn't showered yet that day and was all scruffy. She's telling me she lives on Avenue du Mont-Royal and asking how much longer I was in town. Weird. It's not like I was on my game. Her flirting just came out of nowhere. The monogamist didn't see the point in pursuing it, since my flight was leaving in half a day; the paranoid prick in me thought it might be a scam. I don't know. Maybe I should've done something, but she was way out of league (I'm under no delusion of my sexual attraction; I'm not the village idiot but neither am I Lance Romance). Great, something else for me to agonize over. Could've that been the one? Damn, wish I met her earlier in the week. Oh well, onward and outward. . . .

Before shopping for souvenirs, I stumbled across the Montreal Canadiens' stadium. This (obviously) was outside.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Winding down

I think I should've only done five nights in Montreal -- I'm running out of things to do.

On Thursday, I took a Metro and a bus out to Marché Central, at the suggestion of my travel book. I wasn't too impressed. It's an outside mall that stretches blocks and blocks, so you have to cross at a lot of traffic lights. I was hoping to buy some reasonably priced souvenirs for people back home, but the only store I went in was a Dollar Store, and they didn't have much; I would've gotten Canada socks for my goddaughter, but they would've been too small for her.

Once back near my B&B, I grabbed a beef sandwich at the deli I've been going to. In my room, I read the newspaper then took a nap.

I got up around 5:30 p.m. and hopped on a Bixi bike to check out a French restaurant, L'Express. Took a little while to find because they don't have a sign out front, just a nondescript menu -- guess that's how you can tell a place is successful. My travel book said a reservation was essential, but I just up, and there was an open spot at the bar.

Maybe I was thirsty, but I thought they had the best water ever. Anyway, I ordered quail over wild rice. It was awesome! Never had quail before (tasted like chicken). For desert I got a chocolate tart. Amazing!!! And the service was top-notch.

I then biked it over a couple blocks to check out an improv joint's opening night. It was on the 2nd floor of a building (couldn't tell if commercial or residential). Their space fit about 75 audience members, and it was pretty much sold out. The first act featured On The Spot, Montreal's longest active improv troupe. They were supposed to do 25 scenes in 45 minutes but came up short. After a 10-minute intermission, a troupe called The Bitter End did an improvised play. Good times.

Around 10 p.m., I biked it back to the B&B. Kinda crazy how fast bicycling is. The trip took no more than 10 minutes; that same trip Tuesday, after coming back from the movie, took a half-hour-plus. Yup, call me Obvious Man.

I ended the day with the CTV news (weird how they do national first, then local -- 30 minutes each). At midnight they air The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Guess it shows Canada's left-of-centre politics, since CTV is free, unlike Comedy Central down in the States. Regardless, listening to Stewart is an excellent way to end a Thursday!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mercredi à Montréal est génial!

That's right: Wednesday in Montreal is awesome!

I'm not even gonna tell you what I did for most of the morning -- see yesterday and the day before and the day before. . . .

For lunch, I hit the supermarket on Avenue Mount Royal. A couple days ago I saw in their salad bar what looked liked a crab cake in a red pepper cut in half (description was in French, so I was clueless), but they didn't have it so I sampled other fine food. Probably good that I didn't know I was eating. One was a thinly sliced meat, the other I think potato and cheese, plus I had the type of bread they serve in Indian restaurants. Kick ass!

Around 1:30 p.m., I grabbed one of the rental bikes in front of the supermarket. These Bixi bikes have an interesting pricing structure. For $5 you get a subscription for 24 hours. If your trip is under 30 minutes, you don't get charged extra, and you don't have to worry about locking the bike cuz there are hundreds of docking stations all around the city; if you go over 30 minutes, you start gettin' charged extra. It's pretty cool: once you swipe your credit card in a docking machine's computer, it gives you a five-number code (keypad only has numbers 1, 2, + 3), which expires in 5 minutes.

Anyway, I headed a few blocks down to Parc du Mont-Royal. It took a little while for me to find the main bike path, then I was on my way. It's at a slight incline for about four miles, buy, boy, did I feel it. Eventually I did get to the top of the mount, where I could see for miles. I took pictures but they didn't turn out too well -- gonna have to invest in a wide lens.

Going down the mount required almost no pedaling. And just like when I was pedaling up, I had a soda-drinking grin. Beautiful day out. High 70s.

Leaving the park, I biked it to an avenue a few blocks parallel from where my B&B is. I stumbled across a used CD store called Beatnik. They had this soundtrack I've been looking for, to the film Amélie, but I wanted to get the French one (Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain). And it's new! I also got the soundtrack to Blade Runner. Oh, real quick: the store was interesting . . . the retail version of a China doll. It had three or four rooms; you couldn't see 'em at first, but as you walked back, you came across each additional room. Groovy.

Around 3:30 p.m., I docked the Bixi bike a block from the B&B and just hung out for an hour or so, then it was on the Metro to catch the soccer game. The game didn't start till 7:30, but I wanted to get down there early for dinner and buy some souvenirs at the stadium.

I was going to have dinner at the restaurant in the Observatory, but it was closed, so I walked down the road, where I remembered a few restaurants from Sunday. The best bet was a place called Madison's, subtitled New York Grill; I would've preferred a Canadian joint, but everything else was fast food.

I order a two crab cakes as a starter, and the main course were ribs, mashed potatoes and a salad. I washed everything down with a Molson Dry. When in Canada. . . .

I got down to the stadium around 7. I made a beeline for the boutique and got a Montreal Impact jersey for myself ($90 [$78 U.S.], yeah, it's a lot, but I'm not buying any other souvenirs for myself, plus I love soccer jerseys) and a scarf for my oldest nephew.

The turnout at the game was pretty good for a team, from what I understand, isn't going to make the playoffs (they're about halfway through the season, and a couple of their best players are injured). After the first half, the video screen said there were 12,443 attendees. I don't know about that. If it is a 13,000 seater, I'd say it was more like 10,000. Still, impressive for a hockey-loving town.

My seat was fine -- not a nosebleed as I'd feared. If the weather's nice, there are really no bad seats in the stadium, since it's on the intimate side. Really fun to see my first professional soccer match. I forgot what skill it takes to play the game. And neither team scored a point, so it could've been worse for 'em.

The game let out around quarter to 10. It took forever for me to get back to the B&B. The Metro only runs about every 10 minutes that late. And it didn't help that at one point I hopped on the wrong line. Grrr . . . second time that's happened.

Around 11 I exited the Metro's Mount Royal station. Not feeling like walking 15 minutes, I took a Bixi bike back to the B&B. Kinda neat how when you pedal, lights in the front and back flicker, to alert motorists.

I stayed up a little to watch the news. Wanted to see what they said about the game. The sports guy was less kind than I, complaining that the Impact can't score, although the visiting team, Baltimore, had an outstanding goalie (dude could catch a ping-pong ball with his eyes closed). And I think the commentator should've mentioned that the Impact was down on Baltimore's side of the field more often than not. Then again, I'm biased, since I'm a citizen of Montreal for the week. . . .

My best friend on Wednesday in Montreal, a Bixi bike.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tuesdays with Montreal

On Tuesday morning, I got up around 8 and did what's turning into a routine: heading down to Tim Horton's for a croissant and and small bottle of OJ. I probably should mix things up, but I don't eat croissants at home, so what the heck.

Afterwards, I worked on yesterday's blog then showered and shaved. I didn't leave the B&B until about 11:30 a.m.

I hopped on the Metro to check out the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Wasn't impressed. Two-thirds of the exhibits you weren't allowed to take pics, and the third and fourth floors were blocked off. Glad my donation was only a pocketful of change.

For lunch I ducked into a place called Thursdays because the menu hung up on the outside wall said they had ribs. The bartender told they don't serve them until nighttime, so I got a green salad with some vinegary dressing. Good stuff, aided by the hard Italian roll I scoffed down.

Refueled, I hopped back on the Metro to pick up a ticket for the movie I planned to see that night, but the theatre's box office didn't open till 6 p.m., so I hopped back on the Metro for Old Montreal. My travel book recommended a French restaurant down there. Unfortunately, it was out of business. On the plus side, I did pass the Notre Dame church. Should've taken a pic or two, but I was too lazy.

Thanks to my "bestest buddy" (as my little sister Sharon used to say as a young'un), the Metro, I was back to the area where the movie theatre is at. It was only 4 p.m., so I wandered around the neighborhood, mostly inhabited by McGill University. Apparently, it's the big school up here. I think somebody told me the other day it has 30,000 students.

Around 4:45 p.m., I ducked into a Greek restaurant I saw earlier in the day on my way to the movie theatre. It was virtually empty, except for some guy in a Panama hat sitting at a table by the open window. I was in the mood for a gyro (never had one), and I went to the right place. It was amazing! I got the platter with a salad, rice and Greek potatoes (cut in wedges). A nice glass of milk topped it off.

The movie I saw was Metropolis, the 1929 German, silent, sci-fi masterpiece. It was only playing one week at Cinema du Parc, one showing a day at 6:45 p.m.; which might explain why the theatre was about a third of the way full -- not too bad for a Tues. night (thought it is summer).

I saw
Metropolis 15-20 years ago, but this rerelease features about 30 minutes of newly discovered footage, which is obvious because of its grainy quality. This viewing made much more sense than when I was younger, because I'm aware of the political currents occurring when the film was made, since it's about class warfare. Interestingly, at the end of it, about a dozen audience members clapped. Pretty cool.

Since the movie was two and half hours long, it was close to 9:30 p.m. when I left the shopping centre that house the theatre. I didn't feel like waiting around for the two buses I would need to go back to the B&B, so I hoofed it for the mile-plus walk. Once back at home base, I watched a little TV, then crashed at 11.

Entree I had for dinner at the Greek restaurant. Octopus. Mmm, delicious!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sunday Boring Sunday and Montreal Monday

Guess I should've pointed out in the previous post that I didn't upload it on Sunday afternoon. The coffee shop across the street had no Internet either -- must've been a local thing. But since Monday morning, I've had Internet access here in the B&B.

But to backtrack a little, Sunday afternoon I hopped on the Metro for the soccer stadium to see the game. First off, my travel book gave me wrong information. They had me get off a stop too late, so I had to walk a mile-plus -- not a big deal, I could use the exercise. However, once at the stadium, I learned that I got my wires crossed. The security guards informed me that the game is Wednesday. Doh! So I wandered around the area . . . plenty of touristy things in that complex.

On my way home, I got stuck in a thunderstorm (should've bought that umbrella I saw in Staples on Sunday morning for $10). There's a pharmacie two blocks from the B&B, so I got an umbrella there, but I was drenched. Not feeling like searching for a good place to eat, I ducked into a tiny pizza shop and clogged my arteries. Afterwards, it was about 7 p.m. I just strode back to the B&B and watched TV. I fell asleep about 9:30.

Monday morning I woke up around 7, feeling refreshed. I skipped a few blocks down to the Tim Horton on Avenue Mount Royal and bought a croissant and a 300ml OJ (10 oz.). Then I wandered around because I was thinking about writing at one of the libraries near my B&B -- each one at least a half-mile walk. I passed the one, which is right across from the Mount Royal Metro station, and I kept walking. A half-mile later I turned left at Avenue Christophe Columb and came across these apartment buildings that made me feel like I was in Paris -- winding staircases that started at the sidewalk and went up to the 2nd floor. Once I reached Boulevard St- Joseph, I hopped on a bus . . . gotta love a weekly transpass!

After showering, I decided to go back down to the soccer stadium so I could get a ticket without Ticketmaster raping me online. I got a $40 ticket under the roof. It's kinda high up. I'm now second-guessing myself, wondering if I should've gotten one on the other side for half the price, cuz it's not supposed to rain on Wednesday night. Oh well, I'll find out soon enough.

Afterwards, I headed across the street to check out the Insectarium, but it was closed due to a "labour dispute with the Montreal municipality workers". Bummer.

I then headed back toward the soccer stadium. In the same complex is the Montréal Tower, which stretches 175 metres into the sky (574 feet or 53 stories) at a 45-degree angle. Unfortunately, it was overcast so I couldn't see 80 kilometres (50 miles) into the distance. Still, well worth the price of admission of $18.

Next up, I went downtown to the underground mall. I was in the mood for a burger so I got one in a food court, but it wasn't that good: not a lot of meat, cashier put too much mustard on it, and the fries looked like the tiny bits you get at the bottom of a bag.

Apparently, the underground mall is something like nine miles. I only wandered through two or three of the mall -- I think there are seven or so of 'em. I was looking for stuff to buy for family, but it's all very high-end. I held back . . . the week's young.

Around mid-afternoon, I returned to the B&B and wandered down Avenue Mount Royal, which I've grown quite fond of; lots of shops without being too expensive. I hit a couple DVD and used CD shops. I wanted to get the new Kids in the Hall DVD, but nobody has it . . . looks like I'll have to get it from Amazon Canada. At the CD shops, I picked up the Flashback soundtrack (crappy 80s pic w/ Keifer Sutherland and Dennis Hopper, but it has a Flesh For Lulu song I never heard before). At a used book store, I picked up the Nikita soundtrack; great French film.

I also walked down Avenue Laurier for an eight-block stretch because my travel book said it was awesome, but it wasn't really my cup of cola cuz it's too upscale for my middle-class wallet.

I returned to Avenue Mount Royal and saw a Thai restaurant that looking interesting, since I was hungering for seafood. But it was only 5:30 p.m., so I kept on walking until I hit the end of the strip, about two miles. I hopped on a bus that I thought would take me to the Thai restaurant, but it went in the opposite direction. I got off at the stop near the soccer stadium, took the Metro back to the Mount Royal Metro stop, then hopped on the right bus.

For the entree, I ordered pork dumplings in peanut-butter sauce . . . very odd. The main course was a seafood mix over red and green peppers. It had bits of crab and the usual suspects (shrimps and scallops) plus squid, which I never ate before -- real rubbery.

The service as piss-poor. I had asked for Chinese tea but never got it, and I had to go up to the counter for the cheque. It came to $18 and I didn't leave a tip. The casier/server didn't seem to expect one, so I left.

On the walk to the B&B, I stopped in an ice-cream place and got a sugar cone with cappuccino ice cream. Delightful!

I crashed around 10:30 p.m.

Soccer stadium -- seats 13,000 -- I'll be seeing the Montreal Impact play on Wednesday night; I took this pic high up on the Montréal Tower. I'll be on the left under the roof. (If ya click on the picture, you'll see the right seats spell out the word IMPACT.)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Montreal, baby!

Right now, it's mid-afternoon on Sunday. I'm writing this in my room but will upload it across the street at an Internet cafe, since the wireless at the B&B isn't working.

Yesterday, I got up at 6 a.m. to catch the first of two trains (6:53 a.m.) to the airport. I got to my gate around 9 a.m. With plenty of time to kill, I walked through a few terminals, looking for a can of soda. Couldn't find any, so I got a $2 Liberty Bell root beer in a glass bottle; and even though I had some Triscuit crackers with me, I succumbed to temptation and got a white-cream-filled donut at Dunkin Donuts.

The plane ride up was eventful. It did leave about 15 minutes late (was supposed to take off at 11:15 a.m.), but we touched down in Montreal around 12:50 p.m., so all's forgivable.

During the flight I pored over my Montreal travel book. It said the airport is 15 miles west of the city, so I took a cab. Came to $42 Canadian dollars and change, but I made it an even $50.

I threw my stuff in the B&B room and cruised around the neighborhood, with map in hand thanks to that travel book. It's interesting, since the last time I was here (my first) was a year and half ago -- the weekend after Thanksgiving, where it was snowing and no warmer than 30 degrees. I've noticed there are more homeless and mentally unstable on the street now. Obviously.

Anyway, I got a turkey-lunchmeat sandwich at this cool cafe I hit my last time here. That place is still great, and it's only three blocks away!

Next, I headed to a Metro station to pick up a weekly transpass. It doesn't start till Monday, so I also got an all-day pass for Sunday.

Afterwards, I walked around some more in the neighborhood. Beautiful day out. In the high 70s. Nice blue sky, and not a grey cloud in sight.

For dinner I had a veggie burrito at the bar downstairs, which is affiliated with this B&B. It wasn't as good as the one I had last time I was here, but what are ya gonna do.

I had gotten less than six hours sleep Friday night, so I was really tired Saturday evening. I watched some TV, falling asleep a little after 10 p.m.

This morning, Sunday, I got up at six at walked two blocks down to Tim Horton for a croissant and bottle of OJ. Came back to the B&B, showered and did some dental hygiene action.

At nine, I left to hop on the Metro to the eastern side of the city. It took 10 minutes to walk there, then it was about a 20-minute ride (8 stops or so). The Unitarian service didn't start till 10:30, so I wandered around the neighborhood. I stopped in a Staples to pick up a memory stick since I had to delete the photos on my camera (long boring story); good deal . . . 16 Canadian dollars for 4 gigs. Then I went to a convenience store and got eight tidbits (a.k.a. munchkins) and a can of Pepsi.

I arrived at the Unitarian church around 10:10 a.m. I went inside and chitchatted with some of the members.

The service lasted about an hour. It's an interesting building. The sanctuary it sort of triangle-shaped, with the entrance side curving like the underside of a ship. Iron grid-work supports the high ceiling, with rows of light bulbs hanging in staggered fashion -- very post-modern.

A little before noon I was back on the Metro; kinda cool that it was only two blocks from the church. I got back off and picked up a chicken sandwich at the same cafe I went to lunch for yesterday. The same girl as yesterday served me. She said she liked my accent, so I shifted into flirt mode, saying, "Right back at'cha." I'm shameless.

The plan now is to catch the Metro around 4 p.m., so I can catch an early bite to eat before trying to score soccer tickets. Montreal's home team is playing tonight. I figure if I can't catch Manchester United, might as well do the next best thing.

Park a few blocks from the B&B I'm staying at, which I took Saturday night.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

shy goddaugther

Had dinner with my sister, her husband (before he had to go to work) and her three kids. Afterwards, we went for a walk as the kids rode their bikes and big wheels. Every time we approached neighbors out on a constitutional, my goddaughter dropped her head so that her chin was touching her collarbone, which affected her nascent steering skills -- to the point she drifted off the sidewalk. Kinda cute, since she's only three . . . plenty of time to work on her being outgoing.

Friday, July 23, 2010

People Are Funny

Most mornings you can find me at the gym. I don't wear headphones there and I'm usually on the NordiTrek for at least half-hour, so I got time to kill.

The other day some guy gets on the NordiTrek next to me. No big deal -- maybe he liked that particular machine. He starts doing his workout. About 10 minutes into it, a friend of his (acquaintance?) walks up and starts chatting. They're shooting the shit, then all of the sudden things get juicy.

The friend, let's call him the NonExerciser, starts talking. He's babbling about some coworker that he and the NordiTrek guy know. I'm assuming they work at the same place. The
NonExerciser says that the coworker got fired. The NordiTrek guy doesn't know who it is. So the NonExerciser tries to explain him. This is where the story gets amusing (to me, at least). The NonExerciser goes through five ways to explain appearance of the fired guy, everything from what shirt he wears to his haircut. The NordiTrek guy just doesn't hear any bells ringing. So the NonExerciser drops his chin, brings it up, then says, "You know, the motherfucker with the buckteeth."

"Oh," says the NordiTrek guy, "that cat!"

I'm telling ya, people are funny. . . .

Sunday, July 11, 2010


I'm writing this on Friday about 5:30 p.m., UK time. The two-star hotel I'm staying in doesn't have Internet access, so I'll post this blog entry later -- probably when I'm back in the States.

Yesterday, Thursday, was mostly a travel day. I had breakfast at the hotel in the Portmeirion village, then caught the shuttle to the Minffordd station for my 10:05 a.m. train. Weird thing was, it headed back towards Liverpool; I got off a few spots before the Beatles' birthland at the Wolverhampton station, around 12:30 p.m.

The actual train to Glasgow left a little before 3 p.m. I was looking forward to it because it was Virgin -- I've heard good things 'bout their airline -- but it was a letdown (little legroom and the spots didn't have any racks, unlike the Wales Arriva line). On the plus side, a senior sat next to me and she turned out to be good company (even though she read from a Christian pamphlet). She lives in Glasgow, though I think she grew up in Wales, and was coming back from visiting a friend in south Britain.

The Virgin train rolled into Glasgow on time a bit after 7 p.m. I grabbed a taxi to my lodgings: don't laugh . . . it's called the Swallow Hotel. OK, now laugh!

The hotel is right off an interstate and half the shops around here are out of business with steel shutters closed down -- very gritty. Reminds me of South Philly, the part down by the shipyard and industrial parks.

After checking in, it was a bit past 8, so I got dinner in the hotel's restaurant. I ordered fettuccine in a liquidy tomato sauce with a coating of cheese on top.

I crashed a little before 11 after watching some telly. Of course, there's a Scottish channel.

Today, Friday, I got up before 8 a.m., then had breakfast downstairs: two pieces of toast, beans, sausage and OJ.

I hopped in a taxi around 10:10 a.m. and told the driver to take to the Glasgow Science Centre. Before I went in, I took some pics of local landmarks, including BBC Scotland, a blue bridge and an amphitheatre where there are evening concerts.

The Science Centre cost 9.95 to get in (not that I minded -- need to get rid of all these pounds before I go home), but it was bit of a letdown. It's geared more towards kids. My two nephews, ages six and five, would've loved it. Only thing that made me smirk was the stringless harp: invisible lasers create sound when you pluck it.

Leaving the Science Centre, I opened my Union Jack umbrella (can't believe this London purchase still works) to battle a drizzle. A cab took me to the Botanic Gardens.

A light rain began falling when I passed under the Botanic Gardens' concrete arch. I made a beeline for the Kibble Palace, a glasshouse that is awesome! Inside are circa 1900 sculptures of Biblical figures. Near the entrance is a leafy display with a circular pond as a base; in the pond are koi fish. Also inside the Kibble Palace are plants from Australia and South America, as well as carnivorous plants including everyone's favourite: Venus flytraps, though they're real small.

The Botanic Gardens also has a main greenhouse, which is pretty extensive -- has something like 10 rooms. Real humid in some of them. What caught my eye were petrified termite mounds and a plant that eats insects like ants. The plant is cup-shaped and its aroma lures in pests; once they go in too far, they can't escape the stick-sweet.

Next stop was the Glasgow Necropolis. On paper it sounded cool. A bunch of affluent, 19th-century Glasgowians paying homage to themselves with ornate crypts, but the rain was still coming down, so I ducked into a nearby religious museum, where the third floor gave me a good pic of the Necropolis. The museum also had a "Digging Up Glasgow" exhibit, which featured a 3,000-year-old arrowhead. Wow!

Afterwards, I walked several blocks to a cafe. I had to go that far because most shops were closed up. As a dried off in the cafe, I had a bacon cheeseburger and Old Jamaican ginger-beer soda.

The rain really started to come down now (about 2 p.m.). I tried waving a cab down but he pointed behind him at a taxi stand. I caught a cab that took me to Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, a recommendation from that old bird on train yesterday.

The Kelvingrove Museum was amazing! They stress Scotland's history but also have other art, such as Italian, Dutch, French, etc. And on one of the upper floors, they had a small sculpture of FDR. Oh, and there were some modern art, along with exhibits dedicated to dinosaurs and Ancient Egypt (they had tombs from 2,500 BC, if memory serves).

It's about 6:30 p.m. right now. The plan is to get some fish and chips for dinner then try and crash around 9 'cause I gotta get up at 3:30 a.m. for my 6:55 a.m. Not looking forward to that. Three connections: Glasgow to Birmingham to Paris to (finally) Philly. Hope they're all running on time. . . .

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Portmeirion, day 2

Yesterday, Wednesday, it rained for the first half of the day, so I did most of my touristy things in the afternoon and evening.

In the morning, I had breakfast in the village down at the hotel because the shops and cafes didn't open till 10 or so.

Around 11 a.m., I stopped in the Prisoner shop and bought a little Portmeirion travel bag. I wanted to get cookies and fudges for everyone back home, but I would need to get four boxes, and I just don't have the room in my luggage.

The rain finally let up around 2 p.m. (I had spent most of the morning in my room reading that Cure bio), so I headed down the road in the village to a cafe. Got a tuna salad on a roll; it was more like a tuna sandwich -- really good.

After lunch, I wandered around and took as many pics as I could, including on this hiking trail where I was looking for this plant with three-foot-wide leaves. I was snapping so many pictures that my battering konked out after about two hours.

I retired to my room and put on channel 5 at five o'clock for some Portmeirion programming, but I messed up -- they aired it at four, so I showered and hung out till 6, when they aired an old Prisoner episode. It was a good one, where No. 6 runs for No. 2's office -- lots of exteriors shot here in Portmerion . . . God, the producers did a great job of utilizing the land here!

At 7:15 I had the shuttle pick me up for dinner down at the castle (didn't feel like walking the half-mile or so). At the castle, there's a fenced-off field with a bunch of black sheep, some with horns. As I was taking pictures, a number bahhed and they approached the fence, rather aggressively, I thought. Weird.

For dinner, I had crab and some sort of mayonnaise concoction on a hard piece of bread for starters. The main course was duck over red cabbage, with mashed potatoes. To drink, I had a 250ml glass of chardonnay (I figured, if you're gonna be a fancy-schmancy place, might as well go the whole nine). For desert, I had pecans in a four-inch-wide pie crust, with a scoop of ice cream on the side. I should've taken a picture of it. Also on the plate were these edible colourings in swirls, and sticking out of the ice cream was a red oblong circle measuring six inches. It was almost too pretty to eat, but I wolfed down the plate regardless.

Real quick: the sun sets in England around 10 p.m. this time of the year. WHAT!?!

I went to bed around 11, after watching a documentary on Pete Best, a footballer who I read about at Manchester United. Kind of a tragic figure. A child prodigy, apparently. He started playing professionally in his teens, but he was so good the fame went to his head. Later in life he went bankrupt and became an alcoholic -- liver problems ending his life at 59. On the more entertaining side, at the Manchester United stadium, there's a quote of him saying, "I spent most of my money on birds, booze and cars. The rest I squandered away."

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Yesterday, Tuesday, I got up at 6:45 a.m. after a restless night sleep -- didn't want to miss my trains to Portmeirion. I settled my hotel bill, ate some Coca Puffs and drank a glass of OJ, then hopped in the cab for the the Liverpool Lyme Street Station. Interestingly, the cab drive was only six pounds or so (compared to 18 a couple days ago); this time, I gave the driver a tip . . . not much, only a pound a change.

I got to the train station super early -- my 1st train wasn't leaving until 9:15 -- but I didn't mind. Plenty to do. I withdrew 200 pounds from the station's Barclay ATM, bought my tickets for a couple days from now for going to Glasgow, and I read a Cure biography.

Real quick: Liverpool accents are insane. Real thick. Many times during my stay I had to ask Liverpudlians to repeat themselves. Craziness! John, Paul, George and Ringo weren't that way!!!

Anyway, my first train was on time. It was a Metro line that took about 40 minutes. At the next station I waited about 20 minutes for the next leg, which only took a half-hour. The last leg was the longest at about three and a half hours. I was worried that I might miss it because there was only a ten-minute gap between the 2nd leg and 3rd one, but my fear proved unfounded since England's rail system, unlike America's flight schedule, runs generally on time. Oh, and for those of you playing at home, the last two legs of the journey were on Wales' rail system, Arriva Trains Wales.

About 20 minutes into my last train ride, I started getting a little worried because most of the stops were in the middle of nowhere -- no shops and only sheep farms as far as the eye could see. I probably wouldn't have been biting my nails (figuratively) if back in Liverpool if both times when I was buying tickets, the agents never heard of the train stop near Portmeirion (Minffordd).

Thankfully, everything worked out in the end. The trek from the station to Portmeirion wasn't five miles but only about one mile. It was a nice walk, with the sun hiding behind grey clouds.

A little after three I walked into Castell Deudraeth. A driver took me into Portmeirion's actual village -- about three-quarters mile away. I checked in at hotel reception, then the driver drove a few hundred yards to my room in the village (called Cliff House). Very posh. Free Internet access, bottles of Welsh water, and a view looking out to the estuary. Oh, and the room locks with a skeleton key. How cool is that!

After settling in, I charged my camera's battery and wandered around the village. Wow, seeing Portmeirion on the TV show The Prisoner doesn't do it justice. It's something you have to experience. It's not a lot of land but the way the father of Portmeirion -- some architect -- laid everything out, you could walk around for hours and not get bored. I would've went down to the beach, but the high tides hit at four and it can get dangerous, so I didn't bother.

Around five I returned to my room and took those five CDs from Liverpool and put 'em on my computer. By the time I finished showering and shaving, it was dinnertime; my reservation was at 7:45, which I made when checking in.

The dinner was at the hotel in the village, and it just may have been the best meal ever (outside of my mother's Thanksgiving meal). It began with small white and wheat rolls (one each), then the waiter bought around a spinach soup in a small cup -- probably four ounces. I was gonna pass on it 'cause I only like spinach in salads, but I figured what the hell. It was awesome! Couldn't even taste the spinach. It had black specks in there. Pepper? Whatever, it went down like a good vodka. Tasted rich and nothing like I've ever experienced before.

Next up was the starter, delivered on a black slab. I had ordered thinly cut Welsh beef with six dots of butter, lettuce, tiny mushrooms and long carrots. I practically licked my plate clean but refrained myself.

The main course was lemon fillet of sole over spinach, and mixed vegetables in a bowl. I ate it all with delight, except I didn't touch the three thumb-sized mushrooms. Just couldn't get past the sight of 'em.

After I drank my glass of milk, I did something I never do at restaurants: I ordered desert. I went with chocolate cake (motif?) and ice-cream cappuccino. They were both out of this world! The cake was sorta like an ice cream with some white milky liquid in the center. And the cappuccino in a cup tasted so much like coffee I prayed I wouldn't be up until three in the morning.

A little after nine I retired to my room -- watched some stuff on Portmeirion on YouTube, then turned on the telly. Channel-surfed, watching mainly a documentary on Tom Jones (didn't know he was Welsh), and fell asleep with MTV airing an early episode of The Osbournes.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Liverpool, last day

It's about half past eight here on Monday night. I'm sitting in the hotel lobby, shuffling my 10-plus hours worth of iTunes' Beatles songs. Just got back about 15 minutes ago from spending the day down in Liverpool's city centre.

This morning I had breakfast at the hotel: sausage, toast and OJ. I then took the bus down to Albert Dock (about a half-hour ride). I snapped some pics then checked out the Maritime Museum. Pretty fascinating, they had a lifesaver from the Lusitania!

For lunch, I had an awesome chicken salad, shaped like a mountain. Lettuce as the base with the sides being shredded bacon, the chicken, Jersey tomatoes cut in half, and egg and avocado, both of which I didn't eat.

At 2:30 I took the 2-hour Magic Mystery Bus Tour. Pretty cool, drove past each of the Fab Four's childhood homes, and saw not only Penny Lane but also Strawberry Fields. The guide was very charismatic, and apparently he's friendly with Paul McCartney -- he had a pic of them two on his phone. Oh, and one cute anecdote he had was that one time when McCartney met the Queen in a public ceremony, she confessed to owning a few Beatles records. Sir Paul's quick-witted reply: "That's OK, I own a couple Queen records."

The tour wound up a block from the Cavern Club. Glad I took pics there 'cause soon after my camera's battery died, or in its words, it was "exhausted".

I then headed back to Albert Dock (less than a half-mile away) and ducked into HMV across the street from the Dock at a shopping centre called Liverpool ONE. They had a two-CDs-for-ten-pounds sale. Gotta hand to 'em, they really suckered me in. I picked up the soundtracks to the three series of Angela's Ashes (detective show set in 1980s London), OMD's greatest hits, and Kate Nash's latest, who I saw on the telly while in Manchester (the music video "Kiss That Grrrl"; oh, and her CD wasn't part of that sale, but it was seven or eight pounds).

For dinner I ate in the same joint as lunch, in Albert Dock. Got a bacon cheese burger and chips. This being Britain, the bacon was actually ham. Good deal: five pounds for the meal and a glass of milk.

Around 7:45, I hopped on the bus back to the hotel. Glad I spent the day down at the Dock. It may have been unbelievably windy, but at least I wasn't sneezing like yesterday and this morning because the hotel is right next to a park. Curse you tree pollen!

Tomorrow is the five-hour trains ride to Portmeirion in northern Wales. Gotta take three trains. The first leaves Liverpool at 9:13 am. Gonna try to go to bed at 10 tonight so I don't oversleep, in case the early morning wakeup I requested at reception doesn't happen. Upward and outward!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Liverpool, day 1

I know I've been doing this vacay diary the morning after, but I thought I'd do it tonight. The 2-star hotel I'm staying at is technically in Liverpool but about 15 minutes from the city centre, so nothing much going on around here. And it being Sunday, the few local shops around are closed up. Day of rest, and all that.

This morning, I checked out of the hotel in Manchester a little before 10 a.m., then walked a few blocks to the Unitarian Church (I'm a member of it in Philly). On my way there I got a little lost and stumbled across a film shoot: a taxi on a sidestreet corner with big lights and a bunch of people huddled around it. I was across the street and saw some guy, who was about 25 years old, with an earpiece in his right ear. I asked him if they were shooting a commercial, and he said it was for a "drama" called The Accused. I asked him if it was better than Life on Mars (an awesome detective show that ran for two series a few years ago), and he was quick on his feet -- said it was a million times better. After that little exchange I walked on but realized at the end of the block, at the light, that I was heading in the wrong direction, so I had to backtrack (grrrr!). Just as I reached the gaffer bloke, he put his index finger to his earpiece then asked me to wait a moment or two. An extra (some guy in a 3-piece suit with a briefcase) had to walk by on the same sidewalk as us; I guess the camera was facing the front windshield, since I saw the rear of the cab. After they shot the scene, the gaffer thanked. I told I wasn't doing it on purpose -- I missed my turn. He was cool about it. More I think about it, he was cool throughout. Wasn't overly aggressive at all . . . forceful but polite. Sucks they had to work on a Sunday, though.

I arrived a little early for the Unitarian service. Fortunately, I member of my church, Anne, has a friend there and she told them about me. Some lady -- can't believe I forgot her name -- gave me a tour. Pretty fascinating: they've owned the corner property since the 1600s, I believe, but their original building was destroyed in WWII during the Blitz. Since then, they've rebuilt it. Their sanctuary and rooms are on the 1st floor; they rent out the above floors of the semi-skyscraper to corporations.

The service was nice. I think the UK Unitarians are more aligned to Christianity than back home, but you couldn't tell by this service. One thing I liked was that the guy who led the service at one point read a kids' book called Little Croc; gonna have to pick that up while I'm here in England . . . I think my 4-year-old nephew will like it since the Little Croc in question likes to be bad, though at the end of book the croc leans to play nice (well, mostly).

After the service I had tea and scones with about 10 of the congregation (around 20 people attended the service), including Anne's friend. The scone was good: I was told by my tour guide to put butter and marmalade on it. Good advice -- it was delicious. The tea was dead-on, too. Probably the generous teaspoon of sugar had something to with that. And I usually only have hot tea when sick!

The train to Liverpool was pretty packed, but no big deal 'cause it's only a 50-minute ride. (Really weird: back at the Manchester train station, I had to pay 30 pence to use the toilet.) At one point we passed a couple sheep farms. Pretty cool. . . .

I got into Liverpool around 3 pm. The taxi to the hotel was a lot less than in Liverpool (18 pounds vs. 60). When I got here, I made my way down to the local laundry, which was a 10-minute walk. That whole episode was a story in itself. The laundry only took pound coins, so I had to buy something at the local Tessco (a supermarket), then I forgot the detergent, so I had to go back to the Tessco. On the plus side, as I was folding the last of my clothes, I spoke with a nice woman who told the do's and don't do's while in Liverpool -- more on that tomorrow.

For dinner I tried finding a place to get a burger, but my hotel doesn't serve food on weekends, and the pub around the corner had its kitchen close just before I arrived. So I walked a couple blocks and ran into a pizza joint. Their menu had garlic bread. I ordered it and was surprised that it was a pizza -- tasted just like garlic bread. By that point, it was 8 p.m., so I devoured it.

For the past couple hours I've been in the hotel's reception area. I had two screwdivers and am now working on my 3rd or 4th Beck's (though, in my defense, each bottle is 275 ml, which is a little more than 9 ounces). Alcohol = a l-o-n-g, loquacious blog post. When in Liverpool. . . .

Manchester, day 2

Yesterday, Saturday, I had continental breakfast here in the hotel -- ate as much as could since it was 11 pounds. Then I lounged around in my room until about 10 or so, when I went to Manchester Art Gallery. How could I not. It's right across the street! (Can see it from my window.)

I wasn't expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised. It doesn't look like much from the outside but they utilize every inch. Kinda cool how they have pop art in there, like the cover to a Smiths LP. But what really got me was the Victorian room up on the second floor. Never knew artists from that time used such bright, vivid colours. A lot of those paintings reminded me of Maxfield Parrish.

For lunch I had a salad in the Art Gallery's restaurant and got a green apple for an afternoon snack.

Around 2 p.m., I took the tram (a.k.a. MetroLink) for a 20-minute ride out to Old Trafford -- a suburb, I think -- to see Manchester United, probably England's most popular football team. It took the hour tour. Pretty impressive. The stadium fits over 75,000 and tickets are sold out immediately; they can't expand any more at this location because homes and train tracks are behind the stadium. Oh, what else was cool was that the field is actual grass. Damn, now I really wanna see a football game.

I got to really hand it to Manchester United. They have a well-oiled operation. Before the tour you can peruse their museum's three floors (plenty to see since the team is over 100 years old). You start at the top and when you get down to the 1st floor you just have to wait for your tour guide; not a long wait since tours start every 20 minutes.

The tour ends in their shop. It's about two-thirds the size of your typical Modell's in the States and has every piece of merchandise you could think of. I picked up a scarf, a birthday card for my nephew, and a porous black jersey (their away colour, I think) -- the other colour was yellow, but I already have a yellow Australia jersey. What was cool about the jerseys was that they had several designs; some had Manchester United on the back, others, like mine, didn't.

Back near my hotel, I hit a seafood restaurant called Live Bait. Very posh. The food was top tier, but it pissed me off that I asked for mineral water and they brought me bottled mineral water. I should've said something before the girl opened the bottle but I was reading and she kinda blindsided me. Still, I should've said something. Brings me down a bit that you always need to have your defenses up. So sad that people are always looking to take advantage. I don't think I'm gonna go to anymore posh places; I'll stick with taverns and good ol'-fashioned English food. Maybe a pub burger tomorrow in Liverpool for dinner. . . .

To cheer up last night, I went back to my hotel (got there around 9) and watched the last two episodes of Doctor Who's current series on the BBC website. Kinda cool, since I can't do that in the States, what with the license fees they pay over here.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Manchester, day 1

Yesterday I took the train from Cardiff to Manchester. Glad to get out of Cardiff -- the National Rail website said the train was 32 pounds, but when I got there the surly lady at the counter said it was 56 pounds; apparently, you have to buy an advance ticket on the website for the cheaper price. Grrr. . . .

I arrived in Manchester a little after 2 pm. To save money I decided to walk to the hotel (Google Maps said it was a 11-minute walk), but it turned into an hour 'cause I kept getting lost. Streets would run a couple blocks then either run into a historical building or be renamed.

The hotel is very nice. Much better than Cardiff, where at one point the card to my room stopped working, the free WiFi in the lobby one night kept giving me all these unusual security protocols (too boring to go into), the DVD player in the room wouldn't open (not a problem, since I have my laptop with me),and when I arrived they asked me which paper I'd like delivered to my room -- they wound up charging me for it.

In the afternoon, I wandered around. Stumbled across a Theatre Library where a production of Oscar Wilde's Importance of Being Earnest is being performed until the third, but all tickets are sold out. Bummer.

I had dinner about five blocks from the hotel. Oh, the hotel is in downtown Manchester where almost everything is within walking distance. I ate at some Italian joint located on some small sidestreet that could double as an alley. I was jonesing for pizza. Fought the urge to get pepperoni pizza and instead ordered a folded over pizza with pepperoni, mushrooms and (maybe) ham and olive oil.

Afterwards I trekked it to the Comedy Store. Apparently, there are only two in the UK; the other one in London. It was stand-up night. They call MCs over here compres, I believe. He kept asking if anyone was from another country. I kept my hand down after seeing him roast a couple Aussies, a drama student, a copper, and a guy in the front row wearing a pink shirt.

There were four comedians, with a half-hour intermission from 9:30 to 10 pm (the show started as 8:30 and ended at 11). Some funny stuff. Most of the humour British-based, obviously, though the headliner was a Canadian expatriate who was very Bohemian with his dozen jokes about mushrooms. And he did joke that Canadians are like Swedes by being too careful. Made me wonder if Canucks' carefulness is an asset, since they're the only country world not hit really hard by recession because they have strict financial regulation.

Another thing I noticed about all five comics was they're differentiating between England's North and South. It didn't come as a total surprise to me because there was dialogue in the great UK show Life on Mars about it. But hearing those stand-ups touch on it really drove the point home. Kinda weird, since England's only an island. Guess there's competition everywhere.

Wow, I don't think most people go to a comedy show to get all heavy, but I can't remember any of their jokes!

Friday, July 2, 2010

from Cardiff to Manchester

Today's a travel day. It's about a three-hour train ride to Manchester. I have until noon to check out of the Cardiff hotel -- not in a rush 'cause I'm more interested in Manchester's nightlife than anything else. (Right now it's about 9:30 a.m.)

All right, yesterday I spent most of the day down at Cardiff Bay. I didn't get down there until about 11 am -- I was in no rush . . . it's a vacation for bloody sake! Anyway, the Millennium Centre was a sight to behold with its ginormous marquee in Welsh. The Roald Dahl Pass was a bit of a disappointment: it's just a circle, plus labourers had it blocked off so they could set up for (this weekend's?) Cardiff Festival.

For lunch I ducked into a pub that was promoting Curry Thursday. Curry, yellow rise, Indian bread and a drink for 4.99. I made the mistake of asking for lemonade; she gave me a Sprite -- you'd think I would have learned my lesson from the previous day's lunch. Overall, it was good meal.

For the rest of the afternoon, I lounged around the Bay. Glad I did. There were little things I missed the first time around: like a sculpture honoring Cardiff's seamen who died during wartime, and the Visitor's Centre, which was housed in "tube". Once again, pics later.

My travel book said the St. David's Hotel had a good menu. So I hung out in their lobby from about 4:45 to 6 p.m., but when I went in there the bartender said dinner didn't start till 7. I didn't feel like waiting so I went back to the Bay and was going to hit a French restaurant but decided on a Turkish joint. Good choice, if I do say myself. I ordered lamb (salty but good), sauteed potatoes, house salad and milk. And not too bad of a price: 14.90.

During dinner, it started to rain. I was going to take the train but it looked like I had to catch a connection, so -- like in the morning -- I walked to the hotel; it's only about a mile. Luckily, I had Union Jack umbrella that I bought my last day in London.

Back in the hotel, I dried off then headed across the street where, like the night before, hopped into some convenience store for an ice-cream cone (got a different one this time). I ended Thursday by watching The Queen starring Helen Mirren, a Netflix DVD I brought with me from home. Seemed fitting.

I fell asleep to a Welsh TV station. Believe it or not, they have channel where the programming is all done in Welsh -- no English. Craziness!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Cardiff, day 2

Couldn't get online yesterday because of problems with the hotel here in Cardiff, Wales. Anyway, let's backtrack a little.

In London, the dinner at the Italian joint was awesome. Football was on, so the packed place were feisty. I had vegetable lasagna, mashed potatoes, garlic bread and Lipton iced tea out of a bottle. Not too bad -- came out to something like 11 pounds.

Yesterday (Wednesday) I took the train from London to Cardiff. Glad the station was only three blocks from my hotel. And I found out why trash cans are few and far in-between in London: to cut down on terrorists dropping bombs in 'em. Smart.

The 2-hour train ride to Cardiff was uneventful. When I got here around noon, I decided to walk to the hotel since it's only three-tenths of a mile, but I couldn't find it at first. Kept walking up and down five-block St. Mary St., looking for it. Finally found it with the help of locals. I missed it because it's in the middle of the block, squeezed between two businesses. One of those buildings that's not impressive in the front, but it's bigger on the inside -- hey, just like Dr. Who's TARDIS!

My hotel's in what's called Cardiff Centre, so there are many restaurants and shops. I was in the mood for pizza but couldn't find a place that served slices, so I settled on joint where I got 2 meatballs and garlic breads; I asked for lemonade but the waitress gave me a Slice -- must be a UK thing 'cause that almost happened at the Italian cafe in London.

Then it was off to the Cardiff castle. Really impressive! I think I liked it more than the Tower of London because it wasn't so overwhelming. I'll post pics when I get back home, though unfortunately some turned out rubbish 'cause you couldn't use flash photography inside the castle. One that did turn out well was a window called Philadelphia. Apparently the family that lived there were uber religious and Philly is connected with the Bible . . . from John the Baptist, maybe?

For dinner, I ate at an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet, although it wasn't that good -- food left under the burners for too long. My thinking for going there was that the following day I'd be down at Cardiff Bay, where there are a bunch of posh restaurants, so that'll be an expensive meal. On the plus side, I had Chinese tea at the buffet and it was -- um, um -- tasty.

After dinner I went walking, looking for some club, but I left the second of my 2 maps back at the hotel, so I got a little lost. I didn't venture too far into that neighborhood. A little on the poverty side. Lots of businesses and homes "to let".

I got back to the hotel around nine and put on the telly. The BBC had one funny programme on called Mock of the Week, which was quite funny. Set up as a game show, it's basically a vehicle for comedians to make fun of the news. I think the producers are the same Brit cats who did Whose Line Is It Anyway?, which was quite evident in the last bit called "Things We'd Like to See", where the six comedians approached the mike for each topic, the first one being "Lines we'd like to see in the Bible" -- you won't find that on American television!

Right now it's a little before 10 a.m. on Thursday. It hasn't rained since I got there (there was a little shower in London my last full day there in the morning), so hopefully the sun reigns.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

London, last day

It's Tuesday, about 6 pm. I did three of the four things I wanted to do today. Couldn't make it to the London Zoo in time before it closed.

This morning I went to the Tower of London first. Kind of misnomer, since it has about 20 towers. The tour was a bit lame. I'm guessing that the guide didn't take us in towers because our group had at least 100 people. I did walk through a couple towers -- fascinating stuff. And I went into the Crown Jewels. Kinda crazy how you can't take pictures in there. Oh, man, I'm not a fan of diamonds and jewels, but those spectres and crowns are amazing! And before I left I caught sight of on the lawn in front of the Tower of London a touristy attraction where you could shoot the two-story catapult. It took four tourists to pull the ropes so that they could shoot a water balloon.

Next it was off to Westminster Abbey. Sadly, you're not allowed to take pictures in there, just like in the Crown Jewels building. Pretty amazing in there. It costs 15 pounds to get in, and they give you audio pieces where the actor Jeremy Irons is your guide. Besides the tombs of kings and queens, they have a Poet's Corner and a sections saluting the sciences; Isaac Newton is buried there and I think Charles Darwin, or maybe he's just memorialized there.

Big Ben is a block away, so I took pictures of it and the nearby Parliament building. Pretty cool to see it up close.

I came back to my hotel around 4 pm. I'm just resting now. Gonna check out the train station I have to go to for the ride to Cardiff, Wales. Only a 2-hour trek so no big deal. Then I'm gonna hit a local Italian restaurant. Feel like some pasta.

London, day 3

On Monday, after eating an English breakfast here at the hotel (sans eggs), I had planned to go to the Royal Albert Hall first, but judging by their website they don't have tours, so I blew it off and went to the Old Bailey a.k.a. the Criminal Centre, down near St. Paul's Cathedral. I didn't go inside because the line was too long and you couldn't take a camera inside, however I did take a picture of solicitors outside, though it's not the best photo since I was trying not to bring attention myself. I'm gonna have to go back and watch episodes of Rumpole and the Old Bailey because the real thing looked nothing that iconic TV show.

Growing more confident with taking the tube, I headed to the BBC Television Centre in the East End. I had to buy my ticket the night before online; the only slot left was 1:45 pm. Despite taking my time to get there, I had plenty of time to kill. The tour was OK. You weren't allowed to take pictures for the most part, but they did let us see two studios from visitor booths up high. Both were for kids TV shows; they were shooting one, a game show. Sidenote: interesting that they rent their studios to commercial stations, like ITV. Oh, and you should've saw how many lights each studio had -- I think they were all remote-controlled. Another fascinating tidbit (at least to me), a lot of their news show have unmanned cameras because the anchors don't move around; also, the anchors write their own stories, which is why they shuffle around papers. The tour ended in the BBC shop. They didn't have two DVDs I was looking for: Quatermass and Casanova, both remakes from the noughties.

In the mid-afternoon, on the fly, I went to Harrod's, a very posh department store. I went to the HMV on the fourth or fifth floor and bought the first series of No Angels, a nurse dramedy I heard about because of one actress connected to the Doctor Who universe. I then had dinner down in their food hall. It cost about 45 pounds but was really good: 6 crab/shrimp dumplings, chips (steak fries), a house salad, and the best iced tea ever (very sweet).

Then it was off to the West End. I had bought a ticket for the Agatha Christie play, Mousetrap, yesterday, but they didn't have a Sunday-night performance just a matinee, so I had to wait a day. The play was really good. Glad they had an intermission 'cause the day of running around caught up with me in the first half -- had trouble staying awake, but a bottle of water and a cup of ginger ale during intermission woke me up.

Tomorrow's my last day in London. Gonna try and squeeze four things in.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

London, day 2

Well, I'm much more coherent today than yesterday -- don't even wanna read yesterday's post. Though, I did wake up around midnight after two hours sleep. Here, I was rubbing my eyes raw. I had been sneezing after visiting Hyde Park, and it lingered; something there triggered my hay fever. But it's all good now.

I got up about 7:40 this morning (Sunday) and had a complimentary English breakfast in the hotel, though I skipped the eggs. Then I was off to the Shakespeare Globe.

I decided to walk, but when I got to where I thought it was, the West Ende, I realized I read the map wrong. So I went to the nearest Underground station and took the tube to where the Globe is actually at.

They do a great job at the Globe. Part of the property is an exhibit, which I cruised around in (nothing original . . . mostly reproductions) until my tour started at "half past eleven". The tour goes into the actual Globe Theatre, where they put on performances in the afternoon and evening; they were setting up for the former while my group of 50(!) visitors got schooled by our Shakespeare guide. I knew the Globe was a recreation. What I didn't know that the original held three times as many people (3,000) and that it was destroyed twice. First time a pyrotechnic during a production landed on the thatch roof and burned down the place; the second time the Puritans took it down along with other theatres in London, 'cause they saw plays as immoral.

Next it was off to the British Museum. Before going in I hit a deli a block away. Got a veggie sandwich -- this time I ate the eggs.

The British Museum is awesome! Puts Philly's Art Museum to shame. Took tons of pictures, including of the Rosetta Stone. I'll post several of those Museum pics when I get back to home.

Around four o'clock I came back to the hotel and mapped out tomorrow's itinerary. I'm only here two more full days. Tons to do. So on impulse I hopped on the tube to Buckingham Palace. Oh, I bought a day pass for five pounds, sixty pence. WHAT A BARGAIN!

Buckingham Palace is in/near Grace Park, I believe it's called. Tours are only in August and September, so with about a hundred other onlookers, I took numerous pictures. Even got a couple shots of the two beefeaters. Interestingly, they're behind the black-iron fence, about 30 feet back; I'll let you convert that to metres.

Leaving Buckingham Palace, my allergies acted up again, but not as bad as yesterday. I took the tube back the Paddington train station, which is a few blocks from my hotel. I was going to eat in a fish and chips place, but they had no restroom (I'm sorry, toilet). So I went to a restaurant across the street from the train station, a steak place. Good call. I don't eat steak at home. Got an 8-ounce steak, mixed vegetables, mashed potatoes and a pint of milk. Good stuff and not too bad a price at 24 and change. I put 35 on my credit card 'cause the waiter, with the French or Italian accent, was very good.

It's about 10:20 on Sunday night. Gonna shower then watch the Doctor Who episode I just downloaded. Seems fitting to watch it in the UK.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

UK vacay, with Murphy's Law in full effect

My trip got off to a bad start. It was cool that my sister drove me down to the airport with her husband and three kids (good times), but around 3:30 p.m. an intense storm, going on for at least a half-hour. It was so bad, Air Traffic Control grounded flights, which pushed planes two-plus hours behind. My plane to JFK in New York was supposed to take flight at 5:50; it didn't leave till 8:30. While the plane was still on the runway in Philly, I called the airline (Delta) and they told that my flight out of New York, to London, was scheduled to leave at its scheduled time of 8:45 -- since I was going to miss my flight, they could have me on a 4:30 a.m. plane to Atlanta, then to London. I said I'd call them back.

I didn't arrive in JFK until about 9:15. I was standing in the longest line (about 75 people in front of me). The board above the Delta customer-service desk had cities like Dallas and Seattle and future flight times that night. I assumed the London flight was long gone. Boy, was I wrong, when 25 minutes later I turned around and saw Delta international computer screen. At 9:53 I saw that my London flight had been pushed back until 10. I ran from gate 24 to 12 as fast as I could, getting down there at 9:59, but the plane had taken off. Delta said they could put me on British Airways, but not until 9:35 the next night, so I booked a room at an EconoLodge in Queens -- not the safest of neighborhoods.

I checked out the next morning. Running low on cash (the taxi the night before cost me $20 [$14.90 plus a tip]), so I started walking the six miles to the airport. Luckily a few blocks into my trip I found out about a bus that went to the airport. Thanks to the kindness of strangers I made it the airport safe and sound (one flight attendant swiped her MetroPass for me and I paid her $2.25, since the bus doesn't take cash; and a TSA employee told me to sit tight when I almost got off at the wrong stop).

I lounged around the airport for about nine hours. Talked to my mom and my sister Diane a lot, took a nap in the afternoon in the waiting room of a rarely-used gate, and ate some overpriced food. Glad I went to the airport early because I went over to Delta and they verified that my one piece of luggage was in Heathrow already.

On the plane ride I mostly slept (kinda of a waste that I charged up my Mac and iPod). It only took six hours to get to London. And British Airways is the shiz-net! Very comfortable.

I got into London 9:30 a.m. local time. I went to the British Airways desk for my luggage. They had no record of it and said I should go to Delta's terminal, which was about a half-hour ride via Heathrow's free train system. Delta took me downstairs to their luggage department. Some kid sent my luggage over to British Airways yesterday. So it was another half-hour trip back to British Airways. I purposefully didn't talk to the same customer-service agent. Thank God! The one I zeroed must've been manager material because she pointed across the cavernous room to a stack of luggage in the corner that Delta dropped off yesterday. My luggage was there! Wish the first British Airways chick would've told me about that mountain of luggage.

The taxi ride to my hotel was 62 pounds (YIKES!). I gave him 70 because my travel book says a tip is not mandatory but expected, plus we had a nice talk about British Airways and UK TV.

Weird thing about my motel is that I can't leave with the key. They say there's 24-hour reception; I just have to drop the key off when I leave.

Since my room didn't have soap, I walked a few blocks down to this avenue, Everglade I think it's called, and hit the chemist. I ventured further down the Ave. and got a fried fish burger, steak fries (a.k.a. chips) and a can of Pepsi for 5.80. A nice treat since I don't eat breaded fish at home.

I then went to Hyde Park, which is about a half-mile away, because the band Blur played a pair of reunion gigs there last July for 50,000 each night. Beautiful park! It's huge!!! Best park I've ever been to. They have a Peter Pan statue, tons of fountains, and hundreds of people were out enjoying the 80-plus weather. I made it down to Princess Diana's Memorial Fountain. Interesting. It was ginormous circle -- little kids playing in it -- with the occasional tiny concrete bridge you could walk over.

Afterwards, I came back to my hotel and mapped out tomorrow's itinerary. Gonna take public transit tomorrow, so I was researching that. Looks like I gotta go about four blocks around the corner to Paddington Station and get a daily pass.

I also bought my nephew Billy his B-day gift -- his party was today, I believe. Got him a red double-decker bus and black taxi cab. It's not Star Wars but hopefully he'll dig it.

I then ate dinner at an Indian restaurant. Good food, slow service.

Oh, and at one point today I realized that I forgot to bring the attachment to download pictures from my camera to computer, so I had to go out and buy a memory card. I paid 30 pounds for 8GB; hope I didn't get ripped off.

It's about 9:20 p.m. I'm really tired. I know this is poorly written but I wanted to get it down on blogspot. Gonna watch a little telly then sleep like a frat boy through chem class.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Steinbeck on socialism

Been reading Ronald Wright's A Short History of Progress. On page 124 it has an interesting sentence: John Steinbeck once said that socialism never took root in American because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Saw them last night with my buddy Derek at the Electric Factory here in Philly. First off, I was jazzed that I got free on-street parking right around the corner in front of the Red Cross building. Yep, I'm officially middle-aged. Getting excited over a parking place. Christ, I might as well hike my pants up to my sternum.

Anyway, I caught the last two songs by the first opening act, Necro. Two guys on stage with an iPod. Not too bad. Hardcore stuff you would except at an ICP show. And their profanity-laced banter seemed to go over well with the crowd.

After their set ended, a black curtain was drawn across the stage. Near the back of the venue, up a stairwell for all to see was Mike E. Clark, ICP's legendary producer (who has also worked with House Of Pain and Kid Rock). Dressed in a white lab coat and kamikaze goggles, he DJ'ed with help from his MacBook. With most of his thinning mop of hair dyed clown-red, he entertained the crowd for about ten minutes.

All-female metal band, Kittie, from Canada, were up next. Many of their songs sounded the same, probably due to the fact that they didn't pause between most songs, but lead singer / rhythm guitar player Morgan Lander made up for it with bleach-blond Pink-ish haircuit; plus she was working those black biker shorts. I liked their set so much, I downloaded their latest from eMusic.

Next up was Coolio. Pretty pathetic. He had three relatives up there with him and a banner in the background of GANGSTER'S PARADISE (what was that, like 10 years ago?). At 46, his voice is shot. I think he needed backup to pull off a live performance. Of course, it didn't help that at least 20 minutes of his 45-minute set consisted of banter. And I felt bad for his son, who was up there, because they called him AI, for Artificial Intelligence, since -- in Coolio's words -- "he's dumb." Poor kid. Born into a bad family. Oh, and when Coolio did "Gangster's Paradise", I couldn't help but think of Weird Al's "Amish Paradise". Mucho superior in my mind.

Thankfully, Coolio and his low-ambition crew left the stage. Mike E. Clark came back for his third set on the opportunely-located stairwell platform. I don't remember if it was during this set or when he had "performed" between Kittie and Coolie that he played ICP's "Chop Chop Slide". Fascinating to watch. It involves a lot of audience participation. The crowd hit all the right notes. Amazing!

Eventually, the last opening act, the Kottonmouth Kings, hit the stage. They seemed to be a bunch of stoners. Apparently the crowd loved them, with a number of their songs being about weed. Whatever, what am I, in the seventh grade?

Mike E. Clark didn't entertain the audience after the eternity of the Kottonmouth's hour set. Insane Clown Posse hit the stage around eleven o'clock.

ICP have been a guilty pleasure for the past five or so, even since my friend Derek turned me on to them. Their frequent use of the word "bitch" turns my liberal ass off, but Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope are good rappers, and their mythology of the Dark Carnival is fascinating. But I gotta hand to them, they really know how to put on a show. They go through all the hits (hardly any tunes from their latest, Bang Pow Boom). Songs I recognized were "Homies", "Let's Go All the Way", "Tilt-A-Whirl", "The Neden Game", "Serial Killer", "Fuck the World" and "Miracles". Gotta give 'em props for doing "Miracles", especially after SNL parodied it.

Proving that it was a white-trash event, throughout the show, ICP showered the crowd with Faygo soda (smelled like root beer, for the most part) and occasionally shooting out confetti. I don't know, I thought it would've been a better show if they would've practiced a little moderation with the Faygo and confetti.

All in all, I'm glad I went. I felt like an anthropologist in the clown-ish inner city. Definitely a different scene. And they finished with "Bang! Pow! Boom!", from their most recent full-length. A nice ten-minute ditty to end a white-trash event.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Flashforward, part 2 [[WITH SPOILERS!]]

Finally finished listening to it. I still think the characters were two-dimensional, but I don't read sci-fi for the characters; I read it for the mind-blowing ideas. Part of the ending had only Nobel Prize winners achieving near-eternal life, and humans the only intelligent life in the universe. Interesting stuff. It did get me thinking. The afterlife is a fantasy. I'm becoming more convinced that when you die, that's it -- lights out. There could still be a God (something had to kick-start the Big Bang) and having a limited shelf-life could mean we burn bright, burn fast; though that doesn't mean we should lead selfish, hedonistic lives.

I understand why religion thrives. Nobody wants to die. The afterlife is a nice safety net. I suffer in this world and am rewarded in the next. But the more I read, I see incredibly intelligent people are atheists. Maybe they're onto something.

Of course, maybe I'm just looking for an easy out. All of my sins would be a non-issue if life ends with my last heartbeat.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Took my four-year-old nephew, Buff, this afternoon to this little carnival in the parking lot behind the office building I work in. He seemed to have a good time. On the ride there he informed me that Jedi Knights didn't go to barbers or hair dressers because they used their lightsabers to cut their hair. Out of the mouth of Buff.

The carnival had no more than a dozen rides. Buff's a bit of a daredevil, so we did the funhouse twice. It was funny: during Bumper Cars (I had to drive, even though he's 42" tall) he grinned when we got slammed on both sides by other cars. Other rides we did were airplanes going round and round, lifting six feet off the ground; merry-go-round, which he seemed bored with; yellow slide -- about 20 feet in the air, where you go down on a piece of canvas (Buff on my lap); and haunted ride, which was lame but he seemed a little scared. We also played basketball hoop and shooting balls in slanted rubber baskets, twice each; what a gyp . . . five bucks for three balls, and House almost always wins.

I did buy Buff a lemonade, and he wanted cotton candy, but I kept putting him off because cash was running low and I didn't want to spoil his dinner. Glad I did because I wound up eating supper at my sister's and he woofed down his food. Glad to see it, since he's usually a picky eater. He has a 110% sweet tooth.

When I finally got ready to leave in the early evening, I though it was cute that Buff asked when I was coming back. Now that's nice. . . .

Wow, what a long post! Sounds like I had more fun than a four-year-old!!!

Saturday, May 15, 2010


Earlier this week I bought ticket to see them this summer in Atlantic City. My old cassette of Reach the Beach was busted, so I bought the LP used, and I uploaded their followup, Phantoms -- good goddamn, the lyrics! I gotta say, they're an awesome band!!! I was a passive fan back in the day. I can't wait to see them! What sold me was watching some clips of them live on You Tube.

Friday, May 14, 2010


Been listening to the audiobook Flashforward. I'm about halfway through it. It's OK, though the author does put forth an interesting idea. Oh, in case you're unfamiliar with the novel plot (or the TV adaption, which is slightly different, I hear), a science experiment lets every person on Earth experience life 20 years or so in the future for a few minutes. The author (Sawyer, is it?) hypothesizes, via his main characters, that the future is fixed, just like the past. An idea to mull over. . . . And he mentions Niven's Law, named after the sci-fi writer. Apparently, it means that time travel is impossible because as soon as somebody figures it out, the universe ends to prevent any paradoxes. Fascinating! Sorry to say, I probably won't read/listen to anything else from this Flashforward writer. His characters are too two-dimensional for my tastes, and his plotting needs work. The novel would've been a million times better if instead of all these sorry-sort characters whining about their futures, how about everybody keeps seeing glimpses of their future? Maybe to keep things simple, have the future-seers be a small group of people -- perhaps the cabal of scientists who kick-started it all. Yes, I suffer from the Robert B. Parker affliction where whatever I read/watch I'm criticizing with how I would write it.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


I was babysitting my four-year-old nephew, Buff, this afternoon. My sister came back early from chaperoning her oldest, Marty, to a birthday party. Buff was watching college-girl gymnastics while lying in a chair that can lean back and rotate all the way around. All of the sudden he started crying. My sister asked what happened as Buff went over to her. He said he kneed himself in the eye. Apparently his eyes were closed and regarding his knee, "I didn't even see it coming." Funny. . . .

Friday, April 30, 2010

pickup artist

Pretty funny: I got to work early this morning so I walked a couple blocks to the local Acme. So I'm standing at the stoplight, waiting for it to turn green. Peripherally I see the pedestrian to my left eying me, but caustic city slicker I am, I ignore her. Predictably, she starts talking to me. She's about 5'6", wears a nylon jacket (the kind that companies give out as promo items), has glasses with lenses that are too big in these designer-frame days, and she owned a headful of piebald hair; if I had to guess, I'd say she was in her mid- to late-40s (though she seemed touched, so she probably was older). Anyway, the light turns green, and the conversation goes something like this:

Her: "Hi."
Me: "What's up."
Her: "Where do you work?"
Me: "Down the street?"
Her: "Where at?"
Me: "I don't know, I just started. Why do ask?"
Her: "I'm just curious. Is it the PSFS building?"
Me: "No, it's the one a couple addresses away."
Her: "One George Washington Plaza?"
Me: "Yeah, I think that's it. So, do you work around here?"
Her (proudly): "I work at Villanova Food Services."

I then walked into Acme, and she trailed off. I don't know what's scarier, that she was obsessed with my work address or that I lied so easily, 'cause I do work in the PSFS building.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Wrestler

I caught this movie over the weekend. Really surprised by it. I'm always hesitant of movies that had an Oscar buzz because a lot of times the story sucks -- the nomination is political or an acting performance is awesome. But The Wrestler was really good all around: great acting, excellent script, decent directing. It was nice to see Mickey Rourke in a great movie. Reminded me of his stellar work in the eighties when he was in such flicks as Barfly, Johnny Handsome and Year of the Dragon. Looking forward to his next film. . . .